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Christopher Hall

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What are the educational implications of holding on to objective truth in a culture that values relativistic truth?

Besides conflict, of course! This question is deliberately broad, not focused on teachers, students, curriculum, or institutions specifically, so that the soil of it may be tilled as completely as possible through discussion.

Let's start here: if one holds that objective truth exists, then the interactions with culture, peers, professors, course content, and even the disciplines themselves must be flavored and shaped by that assertion. In a postmodern, relativist culture, this questions is somewhat pressing: there are movements in education that favor both types of truth, and that can make plugging into education, for a student, disciple, or apprentice of an opposing view, feel something like a 120V appliance being plugged into a 220V outlet. Without a transformer, step-down or step-up, these learners seemingly would not be able to approach, apprehend, or socialize around the learning because the premises behind its whole gestalt are out of phase. Or could they? What are the transformers necessary to do so? And the greater question: what are the implications for our culture? Can folks who have these two views, and therefore different educations, inherently, create a functional society together?


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    Jul 1 2013: this problem is highly theoretical, as we don't hold on to objective truth in education. but i find this quote very intriguing:

    "In a postmodern, relativist culture"

    in what sense our culture is relativist?
    • Jul 1 2013: To Christian educators, for example, the problem isn't theoretical. To them, all truth is rooted in God, and so has an objective standard. As you said, most of our education culture holds subjective truth as the standard, and so most educators are relativists. Imagine the difference between seeing history as the unfurling of revelation and as the relatively random collection of events that lead us to right now. That will majorly influence the way that a teacher teaches or a student learns history.

      I'd like to engage the problem without conflict over the assumption by most postmodernists that Christian or other objective-truth-based educators are operating under a false premise. Setting that aside is a mental contortion for a lot of folks, but I'd like to look at the problem in its pure form, as stated. The reason is that there are a lot of teachers and students in relativistic classrooms who have to reframe their learning according to a different view of truth, and I'd like to consider the nature of that reframing here with a kaffeklatch of intelligent people.
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        Jul 1 2013: i still have no idea what do you mean by "postmodern, relativist culture". i also don't agree to the notion that "most of our education culture holds subjective truth as the standard", unless by subjective you mean something that some people believe, but happens to be either false or unsupported. but calling that subjective is not accurate. if i think that the earth is bigger than the sun, it is not subjective, but just wrong. subjective would be something like chocolate or vanilla icecream is better. i don't think that our education is based on the notion that things are subjective. most schools teach what they perceive as unquestionable truths. nor is it common to think most things would be subjective. on the contrary, we see way too much "wisdoms" all around that are not at all based on reasoning or evidence, but simply cultural in origin.

        so again: what do you mean by our culture being relativist?
        • Jul 1 2013: postmodernism- based upon skepticism and deconstruction.
          relativism- no absolute truth, truth is relative to a particular frame of reference.

          I'd propose that our culture is generally relativist because we do not hold on to objective truth as a premise or principle in many things, education being one of them as you said.

          Some things are universally objective, like scientific truth or mathematical truth. In those arenas, truth is pretty cut and dried. The problem I want to dig into lies in the root of those truths, not the shape of the branches. To a Christian student, for example, the truth that undergirds math and science is objective, outside the realm of subjective interpretation. It's God. The fact that this the existence of God is unsupported by scientific evidence matters not to this student: there is a different epistemology at work in this student's mind.

          To a postmodern, relativistic student, science and math have objective truth in their conclusions, but the root of those is outside of a single, objective standard. If you ask this second student where math comes from, for example, they could cite the axioms, the rules of logic and process of reasoning, but they couldn't link it to a higher truth. A postmodern, relativist educator is going to have a hard time understanding where an objectivist student is coming from and vice versa because of this difference.

          Thank you for picking this thread up. You're forcing me to precise this line of thought, and that's one reason why I picked up this thread. I hope this helped!
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        Jul 1 2013: i would strongly oppose the notion that skepticism and relativism would anyhow connected. maybe both are modern views, but they are very different in nature. skepticism is pretty hard to argue. the opposite of "don't believe anything that without evidence" would be "do believe things without evidence", which is plain stupid. on the other hand, i myself am a dissenter as far as modern ontology / epistemology goes, as i think relativism went a little too far.

        do you think that this opposition really appears in schools? i only know hungarian schools in any detail, but i can assure you that this sort of relativism never shows up in the classroom. even in universities, the issue is more underdiscussed than central. i bet that 95% of the population would say mathematics is "written in stone", and not man made. and 99,9% would say that the axioms of logic or the peano axioms are "written in stone".

        in that sense, in the head of the public, "nature" replaces "god".

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